E-Rate Program

The E-Rate Program, formally known as the Schools and Libraries Program, subsidizes broadband connectivity for K-12 educational institutions and libraries across the country, with an emphasis on connecting rural and low-income communities. It is one of four initiatives financed through the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Universal Service Fund. The Fund is financed through fees that are typically collected via customers’ monthly telephone bills, and is therefore not part of the annual appropriations process in Congress. It was enacted through the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which tasked the FCC with providing affordable telecommunications, Internet access, and internal connections to schools and libraries, with an emphasis on connecting rural and low-income communities.

Until recently, the E-rate program distributed nearly $2.4 billion a year in subsidies for telecommunications and Internet services in schools and libraries across the country. In January of 2015, the FCC approved a $1.5 billion increase for the program’s funding, bringing annual spending to $3.9 billion. Since 1996, E-rate dollars have helped connect over 96 percent of schools and 98 percent of libraries to the Internet, although the program has become strained in recent years.